How One Mom Solved Her Picky Eater Dilemma: An Interview with the Creator of Lunarbell Lunch
by amanda dunyak.
Have you ever been a nanny for a picky eater, the kid who refuses anything healthy you make and asks instead for chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese? Some days you don’t have the energy to battle her and give in and other days you try to come up with fun new ways to get her to eat something different. If you look to the Internet for inspiration, chances are you will come across numerous food blogs and articles, including Lunarbell Lunch on Facebook. The creations of mother of six Sarah Gonzalez puts the brilliant ideas I had to force veggies into my charges’ stomachs to shame!
When asked why she started Lunarbell Lunch, Sarah replied, “My daughter Valerie, four at the time, always seemed uninterested in eating her lunch. She would have no problems eating breakfast or dinner, but lunch was always a hassle. She would complain and throw temper tantrums over everything I offered her. I started researching different ways to encourage her to eat better and that is where I discovered the world of creative food! I was fascinated by all the different ways food could be presented and created that I had never imagined. I made a few lunches with the food looking like some of her favorite animals and it was instant success. For the first time she was eating every bite on her lunch plate and so excited for the next day’s creation. I was simply amazed! I started sharing my creations on Instagram, where my screen name is Lunarbell, and that is how Lunarbell Lunch came to be!”
Just by looking at her amazing creations, one would have to think Sarah had a career or background in art. But no. Sarah was a registered nurse at a maximum security forensic psychiatric facility in California for seven years before leaving her job to become a stay-at-home mom to her children: Kaylie (13), Valerie (5), Vienna (2) and Violet (1) as well as her two stepchildren, Victoria (22), and Anthony (17). When asked which of her children benefits from her creative lunches the most, Sarah responds that she mostly makes the lunches for Valerie and Vienna and on occasion for Kaylie when she is home from school.
So no art background at all?! “I have always been artistic for as long as I can remember,” Sarah says. “I enjoy doing activities where I can create something, such as painting murals on my children’s bedroom walls or making fused glass jewelry. Every time I go into the craft store, I pick up a new hobby or project!”
The collection of photographs of Sarah’s Lunarbell Lunch creations range from animals to holiday scenes to some of the most beloved television and movie characters of today’s children. I asked Sarah where she gets her inspiration for these creations from and she naturally replied, “My kids.” Sarah says, “It could be anything from their favorite cartoon of that day, an upcoming holiday they are excited for, a favorite animal or a cute design on their pajamas! I also get a lot of inspiration from other food artists I follow on Instagram. There are so many talented people on there that I am constantly amazed by what they come up with!” And now Sarah’s creations will be an inspiration to the Nanny Magazine community!
When asked if she can design anything asked of her, Sarah replied, “If it can be made with food then I can make it!” Among her favorite creations, Sarah says that the lunches that look the most realistic to her are at the top of the list. “Anything that can make me stop and say, ‘Wow, how did I just create that?’ are a favorite of mine, such as the lion, toucan, swan, and rooster.” When asked what the children prefer best, she answered, “The characters they recognize such as Hello Kitty, Cinderella, Care Bears, or the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs lunch.” I have to say the Halloween creations are some of my personal favorites!
The Method to the Madness
But how does she create these delicious masterpieces? And how long does it take? I imagined it would take Sarah all morning long to make the lunches, not to mention hours of planning and prep the night or days before. But that is not the case! “I usually come up with my idea for that day’s lunch an hour or two before I make it,” Sarah says, “The only prep I do is to look up a picture of something I want to create. I will usually find one or two pictures online of whatever I am planning to make and then combine it into a lunch.” Regarding the length of time it takes her to create the lunches, she says, “Each lunch is different in time. The really detailed hand-cut lunches can take an hour, whereas the simple one in which I use a sandwich cutter can take only five minutes. It all depends on how much time I know I have that afternoon and how hungry the kids are right then!”
I had to know what tools are used to design Lunarbell Lunch creations. Sarah says that her most-used tool is an Exacto knife for cutting out the shapes by hand. She also uses tiny food cutters that come in every shape and design imaginable and that are designed specifically for food art. As for the different colors, Sarah says, “I try to use something I have on hand that is naturally the color I need. If I can’t find what I need, then I will use a tiny bit of food coloring diluted with water. I then use a little paint brush and “paint” the color onto the food. I like to use a thin slice of mozzarella cheese for that because just a tiny amount of color is so vivid on the white background and the coloring doesn’t run. Plus my girls love mozzarella cheese!”
When looking at one of Sarah’s lunch creations, there are some foods that are easily identified and there are some things where you think, “That can’t possibly be food!”
Sarah says, “I try to use a lot of colorful fruits and vegetables and most lunches have some sort of sandwich included.” Sarah buys most of her fruits and vegetables at her local farmer’s market and will sometimes try new products here and there. Do her children eat everything she makes for them? (If so, then I am definitely going to be trying some of these creations myself!)
“Of course I use foods that they like, but sometimes I will sneak in an ingredient I know they are opposed to. For instance, Valerie refused to eat celery. When I presented it to her before the start of my fun lunches she would not eat it. I tried to serve it to her many different ways: with peanut butter, in soup, or with a side of ranch. She just wouldn’t eat it! I then made a lunch with a cute little panda and some thinly cut celery that was positioned to look like bamboo. She ate every piece of that celery on her plate and asked for more, no questions or complaints!”
Ah, very sneaky, Sarah! But brilliant!
“None of my children have any food allergies, but they definitely have different likes and dislikes that I have to take into consideration. One loves cucumber and the other won’t touch it. One likes all berries and the other only will eat strawberries. One eats any and all meat and the other would rather just eat vegetables.” Sarah tries to keep their meals pretty balanced, but has no problem serving fruits and vegetables for lunch. “All of my kids have always enjoyed fruits and vegetables because I included them each day since they started eating solid food. I have been asked several times if my kids and I are vegetarians because my lunches do not usually include meat. The answer is no, I just usually don’t include it at lunch but we eat it at the majority of our dinners.” Sarah says that she gets the protein to her children at other meal times. “I might serve them breakfast with eggs and milk, maybe yogurt or cheese at lunch and then some chicken or pork at dinner. I think it all evens out throughout the day!”
I asked Sarah what her hopes are for the future of Lunarbell Lunch and how I can learn to mimic her creations. She replied, “My hope for Lunarbell Lunch is to have a blog up soon where I would love to share more of my ideas, favorite tools, and tutorials of my lunches. This new way of presenting food to my children has brought them so much joy and excitement with the added benefit of them eating healthier. I would love for other people to discover it and share it with the children in their own lives.” In the meantime, fans of Lunarbell Lunch can try to recreate Sarah’s creations by following her on Facebook and Instagram. “I include a list of what ingredients make each part of the lunches under their photos and answer any questions about how I made something in particular.” I think I am going to be trying some of these on my own with my charges this week!
Picky eaters, be gone!
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